The Acute Frustrations of Wicked Problems

As an Environmental Science student at Oklahoma State University, I have developed a strong understanding of what sustainability is in our modern world. Coming to university as a close-minded adolescent, I became quickly aware of the amount of knowledge I lacked. My viewpoint of the word sustainability has been evolving since my first semester as a student. In the past, my conception of what sustainability was thoroughly paralleled the same definition of conservation. It did not take long for that definition to change and continue changing in the coming years. Today I define sustainability, in simple terms, as meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability to meet said needs in the future. Unfortunately, the idea of complete sustainable practice is not as simple as one might think. Sometimes the problems associated with being sustainable are impossible to solve. We refer to these types of issues as “wicked problems”. Wicked problems are defined as problems that are potentially unsolvable. These issues could be unsolvable for a variety of reasons, an example being sustainability practices. Six different characteristics make these issues hard to solve, all characteristics being important. The most important in my eyes is urgency. It is increasingly frustrating when something is deemed a critical issue needing solving, but no solutions are available for use. This characteristic is especially prevalent in terms of the climate crisis.

The 11th hour documentary is purposeful in portraying one of the biggest wicked problems our Earth will ever face, climate change. As I’m fairly familiar with the rapidly declining conditions of our Earth’s climate, the documentary serves as a great outline of the big picture. I created a few connections between the wicked problem of climate change and the Rittel-Webber reading “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”. The reading was able to strengthen my full understanding of how large and unsolvable the climate crisis is, as well as how impossible it is to plan for such a large-scale problem. As this extensive issue became prevalent to me at an early age, I started to develop a bit of Titanic syndrome later on in my studies. I began questioning if attempting to find solutions was at all worth it. My self-narrative was tainted and full of pessimism. My mind became clouded with doubt until I acknowledged the endgame. Intergenerational responsibility. This developed a sense of purpose and acknowledgement within me. To know the studies and work I will adamantly strive for in my lifetime is for the greater good of future generations establishes strong relief in my worried mind.

I have been asked to take the carbon footprint test for the past three years, each test generating different results. This time around I got the value of 32 tons of CO2/year with a rate of 3% better than the average footprint. Seeing the value of CO2 I emit annually is frightening. It is nothing short of alarming to see in numeric form the harm we are all causing to our planet. Every time without fail, the test leaves me questioning what I can improve. In order to prevent myself from becoming overwhelmed and falling victim to the Titanic syndrome, I begin changing everyday things in my life to lower my carbon footprint by any means. I take the bus, stay conscious of my water usage, and utilize reusable bags at the grocery store. All of these tiny steps may lead our planet in the right direction, with everyone’s help of course, in shrinking the threat of the climate crisis.

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